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Mindburn Review

Picture 25.jpg One of the more unusual offerings out there in the memory management software genre is Mindburn, which advertises itself as a personal knowledge system. As such, it is not strictly a flashcard application, but serves many of the same functions and this review evaluates it, perhaps somewhat unfairly, in comparison to other flashcard applications. The application is a commercial product going for just under $25 and its flagship feature is the ability to manage one’s knowledge through interval study. Mindburn provides a highly customizable scheduling environment for reviewing information that can be organized into multiple levels of folders. Ultimately the software is not an appropriate study environment for students of languages, though some of its sample data suggests it might be used for that purpose, but the application has enough interesting features worth praising to deserve the attention of other flashcard developers looking to brush up on their own creations. Read up for some of the more interesting aspects of this application.

Application Name: Mindburn
Version Reviewed: 1.2.4
Software License: Commercial $24.90
Review Date: 2008.05.11
OS Tested: Mac OS X 10.5.2

Note: See the Terms page for an explanation of the technical terms used in these reviews. See the Basics page for a list of basic features found in flashcard applications useful to language learners.

Mindburn is, from start to finish, marketed as a tool for interval study. It suggests that you use the application to input any kind of information you want to remember into the software, set up a schedule for its review, and as you make progress, watch the snippet of information you are practicing proceed along a “burn wheel” until it is finally “burned” into your memory.

Various stages along the “burn wheel” correspond to interval stages, and you optionally view your progress visualized in the form of the forgetting curve.

Inputting and Managing Notes

The Mindburn window is divided into three panes by default. One pane lists folders and notes hierarchically. A second pane lists upcoming reviews of information in chronological order of when they are due for review and the final pane displays the content of the flashcards themselves.

The equivalent of a flashcard in Mindburn is a “note.” Unlike most flashcard applications which have a card of two or more sides, the default view in Mindburn for a “note” is simply a rich text file where you can type whatever information you wish to remember. You can optionally divide this into two tabs, one for “Notes” and one for “Question” via the File menu’s “Add Question Tab” option. You cannot add a third or fourth side. It also wasn’t clear to me how one can easily move between the two tabs by keyboard when inputting large quantities of information or when reviewing the information.

Notes can be created very quickly by keyboard control but the keyboard input method is not remembered and there are no import options. The created Notes can be organized into sets (folders), which can themselves be organized into multiple levels. However, notes can only be in one folder at any given time.


Every note in Mindburn has its own schedule and here is where the application truly shines. The creation and editing of schedules is incredibly flexible and powerful. The schedule is essentially the TTF schedule or interval schedule to be followed along the forgetting curve for that particular unit of information. The application comes with several standard schedules you can assign to notes and each time you create a note it will, unless you indicate otherwise, be assigned whatever schedule was used in the last note. You are completely free to customize this through a powerful “inspector” where new schedules can be created and old ones edited.

The progress of any note in its schedule is indicated through small “burn wheels” next to the note in the list view or, when the note is selected, through an optionally visible forgetting curve shelf attached to the main window or located in the inspector palette.

You can manually move any note further along or back again in the interval schedule via buttons at the top of the window. The default schedules have only six stages in the burn wheel, at which time the information is thought to have been “burned” or, presumably, permanently memorized. While this is probably usually the case, my experience with interval study over the past decade or so suggests that providing the ability to continue spaced repetition schedules into the 8th or 9th stage is never without merit, even if the intervals at those stages are many months or over a year in length. Fortunately, you can create schedules with as many intervals as you deem necessary.


Studying the notes or flashcards is where Mindburn is at its weakest and ultimately where it cannot compare to even far more simple flashcard applications, at least for the average student of language. This is understandable, since it was not originally designed with the flashcard model in mind.

When a note comes “due,” that is, the time for its next review in the schedule has arrived, it will be added to the cue and you will be prompted to “review” the information. You can either directly click on the instance of a review in the chronological list, or more likely, click on the “Next Note” button, which looks like a play button in the toolbar of the window. Alternatively, you can choose the “Next Due” item from the “Review” menu.

Reviewing a note simply means that the rich text file for the note is displayed. Instead of marking that card correct or incorrect, as a student would normally do in a graded slideshow, in Mindburn, they have the choice of marking the card reviewed by a check box in the toolbar (or Command-Shift-U, a very inconvenient shortcut) or they can, if they like, manually move the note back an interval, again by means of a button in the toolbar (no shortcut for this that I can see). The card is not displayed to you in its own window and there are no options for hiding other windows, which can be distracting during study. This is a very clunky interface for reviewing and it also lacks any kind of cycle elimination common in most flashcard applications.

Mindburn has a lot of flexibility built in to its schedule management, card text formatting (images can be embedded as well, and templates can be used via the advanced preferences), set management, and a really solid clean OS X interface. The use of the “burn wheel” and an easily accessible visualization of the forgetting curve are also great ideas and beautifully laid out in the interface but, in the end, the application just doesn’t deliver when it comes to the review experience itself, which for any flashcard application is the very core of its functionality.

There is no simple viewing of multiple sides of cards, no easy keyboard feedback or cycle elimination during review, no study on demand of sets of notes without manually clicking through them, and despite the rich editing environment for schedules of individual notes, surprisingly little is done in the way of providing students with statistics on their study, past and future, beyond a colorful depiction of where a given word is located along the forgetting curve. Once the effect of the eye candy fades, one realizes this is no more than a visualization of the number of its interval stage.

Fool’s Final Word

With the implementation of a true graded slideshow feature, cycle elimination, and support for study on demand, Mindburn could become a serious contender among the OS X flashcard applications currently available. As it stands, however, many students of language would rather choose the most simple flashcard application with far lower scores here at Fool’s Flashcard Review over the richer interval study schedules in Mindburn due to its weak review environment.

Import: None
Export: None
Non-Roman Scripts: No problem
Modes of Study: Slideshow
Media and Frills: Images, rich text

Entry Creation: 7/10 (keyboard input not remembered, one side by default, two sides maximum)
Entry Editing: 10/10
Set Organization: 7/10 (Notes in folders in multiple levels, but only one at a time)
Flashcard Study: 1/10 (no simple keyboard feedback, no study on demand, no cycle elimination)
Interval Study: 8/10 (Powerful and flexible, schedules can be edited, modified, visualized and customized, somewhat confusing)
Formatting: 10/10 (Full formatting)
Design and Feel: 9/10 (Beautiful app, too much packed into inspector, decent help files, notes not isolated during review)
Statistics: 2/10 (List of upcoming words, visualization of forgetting curve but no useful stats compiled on study)

Golden Coxcombs: 6/10